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Welcome!

So if you’re reading this blog, you might want to know who I am and why I’m writing it. I’m 28, I’m from Dublin, Ireland, and thanks to various recent political and personal life upheavals, I’ve decided to try live my life more according to certain principles that mean a lot to me. Up until now, I’ve halfheartedly signed petitions and complained about things: the lack of action from governments on climate change and conservation, the food industry, the impact of agriculture of the environment and so on and so forth. As someone that cares about the planet we live on and the species we share it with, it angers me to see it’s resources treated so casually and disposably. I don’t have much influence at government level to change this, but I can make change to my own life, and increase my efforts to make as little negative impact on the planet as possible. I don’t want to have to drastically change how I go about my daily life or suddenly transform into a hippy. I just want to put more conscious effort into handing over my money for goods and services from businesses that have higher ethical standards than the average discount, big-brand, multinational.

I decided to optimistically name this blog “My Quarter-Life Eco-Crises” rather than “My Mid-Life Eco-Crises”, because forecasting my own death at 56 is a bit depressing. Plus with my lack of major health issues and new healthier lifestyle, its quite possible I could hit the ripe old age of 112. (Or, let’s face it, I could die choking on an organic chickpea next week.). Anyway, I feel this journey towards more sustainable living will be sometimes frustrating and difficult, but also interesting, and hopefully, and least sometimes, fun. I plan to document moments that stand out, things I learn and challenges I face in order to motivate myself and maybe inform or even inspire others reading to try the same. Hopefully I won’t actively put anyone off at any rate!

Thanks for reading, enjoy 🙂

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Zero-Waste Week: Wearing Is Caring

Zero-Waste Week: Wearing Is Caring

September 4th to 10th was Zero-Waste Week, and to honour the occasion, a week of sustainable-living events took place here in Dublin. This ran across a number of venues, including the Dublin Food Co-OpSmallChanges Wholefoods Store, and CIE Hall Inchicore Sports and Social Club. All sorts of events were on offer, including talks about zero-waste baby-rearing (yes, apparently it is possible!), cooking-with-leftovers demos, and workshops on everything from composting, making your own cleaning materials and to how to work a sewing machine. There was even a field trip to an incinerator (it’s amazing what I consider doing for fun these days), a wildflower walk and stand-up comedy to finish up the week. This is pretty impressive considering how everything was organised and implemented by a small community of volunteers, people interested in the Zero-Waste concept who got together and did everything themselves, with no government funding, grants or advertising.

I chose to hit up Thursday’s event, “What We Wear”. As you may have guessed, the theme was clothing: more specifically, how to source, make or buy sustainable clothes. I decided to show up on that particular night because a clothing swap shop was scheduled, where you could bring your old clothes and swap them for “new” ones. I had no particular desire or requirement for any more clothes at all, but my wardrobe was in desperate need of a good spring-clean.

To fill you all in, I’ve just moved home to mommy and daddy (goddamn Dublin rental crisis), and found my old room crammed full of several year’s worth of once-worn party dresses, untouched charity shop bargains, and threadbare Christmas jumpers. Out attic also contained several large boxes stuffed with miscellaneous, strange and ragged pieces of glittery fabric that once constituted undoubtedly-fabulous Halloween costumes. Therefore I decided to take a leaf out of Eminem’s book and Clean Out My Closet (but with far more cursing).  My own mama didn’t seem to mind this sudden burst of decluttering at all; Eminem’s mother must have some sort of hoarding issue. The poor guy was only trying to be tidy after all: Maybe he has a dust mite allergy? I can relate.

Anyway, I figured the Zero Waste Week swap shop was the perfect way to be rid of the better quality garments I had stashed away. I could ensure good homes for my nicer clothes, and support a local initiative run by volunteers at the same time. And all clothes left over would be donated to charity shops: what’s there not to like?

The trek across town in the rain with a giant suitcase was not to like, but thankfully that didn’t last too long. I made it to the Co-Op early and made myself useful putting things on hangers and folding jumpers, leggings and jeans. The organisers had no idea who I was, but seemed grateful (I hope) if slightly bemused. It felt very weird, seeing my familiar skirts, jackets, dresses and all the rest hung up for strangers to handle, peruse and even take away, should they so wish. I’m not going to lie, there was a slight pang in my chest as I watched women make off with items to which good memories of festivals, holidays and parties were attached. But my memories are here to stay, and if I’m not using something, it’s better that it goes to a good home where it’ll get a second wind.

I probably donated about forty or fifty items to this worthy cause, and I am happy to say I only took three away with me (hopefully I’ll actually use them). I also paid cash-money for a pair of ethical tights, made by the Swedish Stockings Conscious Pantyhose company. I won’t go into detail about them now, as I may dedicate an entire blog post to my new pair of tights later (sure what else have I to be doing with myself??). These were stocked by SustainSister, who, as well as selling sustainable clothing, run a “borrowing boutique”. Other vendors included The Weed Solution, who sell clothes made of… you guessed it, and Fiesta Crafts, selling colourful handmade accessories.

I also sat in on a few interesting talks while I was there. Carrie Ann Moran of Dublin’s Rediscovery Centre gave a presentation about what goes on in the Rediscover Fashion workshop, where old clothes are re-purposed, recycled, upcycled and sold on. The centre also gives workshops on sustainable clothes making and design, if you want to DIY it. I’ve been to the Rediscovery Centre since then (today in fact) and I can attest to the fact that the clothes on sale are absolutely gorgeous. One of the creators of the Nu Wardrobe (another Ali) was there to give a pitch about the Nu website. Nu is a clothes-swapping initiative being rolled out across Ireland’s college campuses, and I’ve already signed up to test their platform. The idea is to create a searchable online wardrobe to allow people to browse each others clothes and request to borrow items they like for parties, weddings or anything at all. I’m looking forward to having a go at borrowing something myself: will definitely dedicate a full blog post to this later! Last but definitely not least, a communications representative from Dublin’s Simon Community spoke to us about how their charity shops are run and what contribution they make to the organisation, which is dedicated to helping Dublin’ homeless community. Much as I jokingly complain about having to move in with my folks for a bit, I am well aware how lucky I am to have them. It’s scary to witness the scale of the housing crises in Ireland, and while it was nice make a small contribution by donating my old clothes to their cause, it’s also hard not to feel like I should be doing much more to help. Then again I guess a lot more responsibility lies in the hands of the government, local authorities and property developers who are basically allowing this to happen and doing nothing… (ok, rant over, back to clothes).

I could have simply brought my old clothes to a charity shop (a pretty good option), dumped them in a skip (not such a good option), or put them in a bin bag and thrown them out my car window somewhere scenic (DEFINITELY a bad option), but I’m glad I brought them to this event. It felt good to contribute to something that volunteers had obviously worked hard to put together and get off the ground. It was also really great to learn something about sustainable fashion initiatives taking off here in Dublin, and the work of the Simon Community. And yes, I’m pretty happy with my new tights (wooo tights!). I find that usually putting in a bit of extra effort pays off, and I like to think Eminem would be proud if he saw the current pristine state of my closet.

 

Fresh Fashion

Fresh Fashion

In my previous post, I ranted and raved a bit about how my wardrobe is overflowing wardrobe despite the fact that I hate shopping. Going “zero-waste” or at least “less waste” with my clothes is therefore something of a relief as it gave me an excuse to do a massive clear-out and to avoid Dundrum Town Centre like the plague.

However, the need to replace items of clothing can’t be completely avoided. Or maybe it can, but by far worthier and less materialistic people than I. When I do need something “new”, I usually try to buy from charity shops, but for some items, secondhand doesn’t quite cut it. Used t-shirts and hoodies can end up becoming threadbare and worn pretty quickly. Recently I had a few hoodies come to the end of their lifespan, and decided that after nearly a year of buying not much at all in the way of clothes, to treat myself to something actually-new.

So where does one find a hoodie that’s not a) manufactured from poor materials in a sweatshop in Cambodia, and b) not going to break the bank? For me, the answer came in the form of Fresh Cuts Clothing, an Irish “fashion lifestyle brand” based in Dublin.

This company has a small shop in the capital’s trendy South William Street (I don’t hang out there much, but I hear it’s trendy from those that do), and they also sell online: Click here if you want to check them out. Operating a clothes-making company from Ireland is something of a challenge, given the lack of a textile industry in this country. However, Fresh Cuts does as much as it can here: all t-shirt printing, labelling, and designing is carried out in Dublin, while manufacture occurs abroad.

Happily for the environment, the fabrics used in the making of Fresh Cuts garments are about as eco-friendly as you can get when it comes to commercial clothing. The cotton and bamboo fabric is all organic and ethically produced.  The polyester and rayon used in the “Tri” fabric are derived from recycled plastic bottles and plant cellulose respectively.  And the “Modal” fabric is made from beech tree cellulose. And happily for human rights and fair labour, the actual garment manufacture occurs in clothing factories approved by the Fair Wear Foundation and certified under the WRAP compliance scheme. The Fair Wear Foundation is an initiative dedicated to improving workplace conditions in production countries. WRAP stands for Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production, and is (to directly quote their website, because I’m lazy and hey, they worded it nicely: “an independent, objective, non-profit team of global social compliance experts dedicated to promoting safe, lawful, humane and ethical manufacturing around the world through certification and education.” It’s great to have the reassurance that there is some accreditation and compliance going on in at least some garment factories out there, and that the clothes I’m buying come from those factories. Fresh Cuts have also started stocking some other brands’ ethical products: Mudd jeans, Monkee Genes, Baggu bags, and Ethletic trainers. Basically, you have no excuse not to buy every item of clothing you could possibly need here, save maybe undies or a cocktail dress (but how much does anyone really NEED undies or cocktail dresses??)

 

Yes, you pay more than you in Fresh Cuts that you would for a hoodie in H&M, but the quality of the clothing is infinitely better. And in fairness, the prices are no higher than in some slightly more upmarket highstreet stores, like Abercrombie and Fitch or American Eagle. (For the record, I have never shopped in either Abercrombie and Fitch or American Eagle and had to google their hoodie prices). As a student, I always try to shop cleverly to keep prices down a bit, so the pieces I bought were a tad cheaper than normal because they were on sale. I also spent over 75 euro, meaning shipping was free.

Yes, cotton requires a hell of a lot of water to be produced, and yes, even recycled synthetic fabric will release microfibres into the water when washed. However, all products come with pros and cons in terms of their ecological footprint, and all things considered, I’m happy to invest in a good-quality, locally-designed product that I feel I can trust when it comes to quality and ethics. And I’m happy to report, both my hoodie purchases fit very nicely and and (I think) look nice. The fabric feels and looks soft and natural, and is definitely higher up on the comfort scale than any cheap high street bargain I’ve made off with in the past. And I can attest to the fact that the thicker hoodie I bought is extremely insulating: It is definitely NOT cold enough yet to do any brisk walking while wearing it, I nearly melted the other day when doing some errands in the city. Lucky for me, Fresh Cuts tend to eschew bright prints and patterns in favour of simple, subtle block colours, so they blend perfectly into my wardrobe of neutrals.

So happy days, I have some new gear to keep me warm and cosy as autumn sets in. Would definitely recommend checking out Fresh Cuts for anyone that wants to shop ethically and support local business.

 

Attempting Zero-Waste Travel

I’ve recently turned myself into something of a social experiment in an attempt to cut single-use plastic out of my life. This was sparked off by the realisation that single-use, disposable plastic rubbish is currently choking our oceans, killing wildlife, fragmenting into tiny pieces and getting into the food chain. If anyone wants to educate themselves a bit more on this scary development, you can click here.

Sadly, avoiding single-use plastic is pretty tough. If you’re not extremely meticulous in planning your shopping, your hydration, nutrition, and personal hygiene may take a serious hit, and I’ve occasionally caved in and bought convenience food, water in plastic bottles and essentials like toiletries in plastic packaging. It’s nice to feel self-righteous and all, but no one wants to be hungry/thirsty/smelly.

Anyway, over the last nine months, I’ve really changed how I live and I am proud of myself, if also a bit freaked out. I buy plastic-free groceries, have cut out impulse-buying, gotten electronic goods repaired instead of buying new ones, and educated myself in the ways of recycling and composting. Once you get into a routine and form new habits, it isn’t so hard. Yet once I leave the comfort of my own home and travel somewhere, all my good intentions go out the window. I’ve let myself off zero-waste living while travelling for the most part, telling myself it’s too awkward to have to think about dragging reusable cups and bags to different countries. But on my latest venture abroad, I decided to try “be good” and avoid creating unnecessary waste for the sake of convenience.

I am currently in Lyon at a pathology symposium. It’s only a two-day trip, so I decided that this would be as good a time as any to try travel waste-free. And before anyone feels the need to comment that flying is itself wasteful, I should state that I do realise this. In fact, I used this handy calculator to work out my carbon footprint (0.22 tonnes of CO2, in case anyone cares). Had I driven, it would have taken 17.5 hours each way, and an even more energy-economic cycle would have taken 160 hours return, both of which I feel would be a bit much. I have to admit I’ve taken many short-haul flights over the last few years: mainly work-related, but I still can’t help but feel bad. Then again, I’m not sure my employers would grant me the extra week off it would take to cycle to places like France, no matter how much I explained about climate change. I do intend to spend more time holidaying in and exploring Ireland on future holidays, and there’s always the ferry to the UK or France… But more of that another time.

Confession aside, I decided to pack up a few zero-waste essentials which I thought might be useful for the trip. I included my ceramic reusable cup, my reusable metal water bottle, my bamboo cutlery, bars of shampoo, conditioner, soap and exfoliator in tins, and my newest find: toothpaste-tabs, purchased in the zero-waste store I visited in Berlin (I wrote about it here if you care to have a read).

I rocked up in Dublin airport, my arm a little sore thanks to the extra half-kilo or so of stuff crammed into my handbag (ceramic cups are heavy!). After getting through security and having a poke around the shops in snazzy Terminal 2, I realised just how eco-unfriendly airports are. I mean this as no insult to Dublin Airport, who’s free wifi and super-lovely staff (yes, even the scary security people) make it a relatively pleasant place to spend time waiting for a flight. It’s just the convenience culture of travel in general. Thanks to the flight regulations restricting the volume of liquids you can take through security, the airport pharmacy is the perfect place to stock up on tiny “essentials”, such as mini-shampoos, hairspray, body lotion and god knows what else. I have no doubt that most of these little bottles get half-used and are then tragically dumped in a hotel room somewhere.

Don’t get me wrong: I used to love mini-toiletries. There was a time where I’d treat myself to a whole set of shampoo, conditioner, shower gel and all the rest of it before going on holiday, like a good obedient little consumer. There’s something adorable about wee rows of little colourful bottles that inspires almost maternal feelings of longing within me. But I resisted the urge to buy anything, except a glass roll-on deodorant which I felt was necessary given that temperatures in Lyon were forecast to be in the thirties, and no one wants to be that smelly conference delegate.

Another massive source of waste in airports comes from the eateries. My dead arm was worth it when I realised there were no ceramic mugs in the upstairs Harvest Café for tea or coffee: only disposable, non-recyclable take-away cups. Luckily the soup and bread I ordered were served on actual crockery, and the cutlery was reusable. But I was somewhat horrified when I saw the sheer number of plastic bottles, pre-packaged sandwiches and wraps, chocolate bar and crisps on sale in every shop and cafe. Even Butler’s Chocolate Café place your free chocolate in a little plastic bag, despite the fact that most people probably walk to a chair several metres away and eat it within minutes (the chocolate, not the bag). Actually, I wasn’t that horrified, because I’ve seen it all before, and thought about it all before, and it’s all a bit mind-numbing after a while.

Then onto the (pollution-spewing) airplane I got, and witnessed a similar story. A single cup of tea ordered on the plane comes in a non-recyclable cup with a plastic lid, with several plastic sachets of milk, and a small plastic bag containing a plastic stirrer, a napkin, and paper sachets of sugar. Again, I had to practice my mindfulness in order to stop myself feeling upset at the sheer volume of unnecessary crap being produced. And I don’t fault Aer Lingus specifically: all airlines are the same. I’m sure they have all sorts of health and safety rules to adhere to, in order to protect themselves in case a passenger spills hot tea on themselves or comes down with food poisoning the day after the flight. It’s just sad that things have gotten to be the way they are.

After landing, I sweatily trekked across sweltering Lyon (on public transport, go me) to find my accommodation. I have all sorts of opinions on how Air BnB is contributing to the rental crises (in Ireland at least), but that doesn’t stop me using the site to find places to stay when I’m travelling. I’m like someone who’s really anti-smoking guiltily lighting up when they’re a bit tipsy and no one they know is looking. I do that too sometimes, though I’m getting way better: the fact that cigarette butts aren’t biodegradable is a major deterrent. I do feel that Air BnBs may be a bit more environmentally-friendly than a hotel at least: Usually you don’t get given free mini-toiletries, bottles of water, and heaps of little disposable plastic sachets of coffee and milk and the like, and I imagine they’re overall more energy-efficient that huge hotels that have lights on and water heating on a constant basis. My lovely host, Eric, showed me around and walked me to the nearby Supermarché (check out that French!) where I agonised over what minimal-waste foodstuffs I could allow myself to buy- sadly they didn’t have a bakery and the fruit was all a bit sad-looking, and required weighing in mini plastic bags (I don’t have the language skills to argue over that one), so I stuck to tinned stuff: at least aluminium is recyclable.

 

Finally, I got to luxuriate in a nice shower, in the company of my sheep’s milk shampoo bar, Lush Big Daddy O conditioner bar, and free soap provided by Eric. I then knocked back a bottle of rather strong Belgian Trappist beer which I felt I definitely deserved after all that hassle, not to mention the general stress caused by witnessing the casual, slow smothering of our planet under a thick blanket of toxic garbage… Oh god, here I go again… and the beer is all gone… I guess tea in my (reusable) mug will have to do…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cleaning the Coast

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Sandycove

I am lucky enough to live by the sea: the Irish Sea, to be precise. I love the sea: there’s nothing quite as calming and soothing as looking into the distance and seeing nothing but a blue/green/grey expanse of gently-moving water, stretching all the way to the horizon. I worry, overthink and overanalyse a lot, and it’s hard for my mind to be still and peaceful. I find that being by the sea and looking at the water helps me find a state approaching calmness.

Sadly, the coast up-close isn’t always quite as pristine as the stretch of blue water would have you believe. The beach nearest where I live (Shankill) isn’t popular with people: it’s rocky, the sand is coarse, there’s nowhere to park and no sitting-down facilities, so despite the fact that its not exactly a “nice” beach, it’s pretty clean all things considered. But if you go a bit further up the coast to where people congregate, the litter starts. Bottles, wrappers, cans, cigarette butts, all the usual suspects are there in abundance, hiding beneath the seaweed and lurking in cracks between the rocks. The scary thing is, it is estimated that only 15% of marine litter is actually washed up on the cast, leaving a whopping 70% on the seabed and 15% drifting in the water, where unsuspecting sea life could eat it or become entangled in it. Just to put this is perspective, it is estimated that 1 million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals die every year thanks to the impact of marine litter. And those are just the big charismatic animals at the top of the food chain. What about fish, plankton, molluscs, crustaceans… the slightly less exciting but no-less important ceatures that prop up the whole ecosystem?

With these alarming facts in mind, I joined my little sister and some lovely locals last Friday evening at Sandymount Strand for a litter pick-up organised by Clean Coasts. This organisation is operated by the Environmental Education unit of An Taisce and aims to protect our Irish coastline through community volunteering schemes. Basically, concerned individuals get together and clean up our local beaches. Some groups are large and meet regularly, others are simply individuals who pick up other people’s carelessly-discarded rubbish while they are out walking. It’s sad that some of the more conscientious in society feel they have to devote their time and energy into cleaning up the messes made by others. But on a positive note, these groups foster a sense of community, build friendships and relationships, and allow people of all ages to reconnect with the amazing nature found along the seashore.

We met by the iconic Martello Tower y the Forty-Foot: myself, my sister, and a small group of parents and children armed with litter-pickers, gloves and plastic bags. We got to work, hopping from rock to rock, shouting with triumph when we uncovered bottles, cans and for some reason, a lot of discarded socks. It was a beautiful evening, and anyone that’s had the opportunity to visit Sandymount knows what a gorgeous location it is. Despite the fact that we were picking up bits of rather gross old litter, I have to admit the whole experience was pretty fun. Fresh air, exercise, community engagement and helping (even just a teeny tiny bit) improving the marine environment: hat’s there not to like?

Clean Coasts runs a yearly Big Beach Clean, a Green Coast Award, and a Love Your Coast photography competition, among other initiatives. They are also campaigning against the use of the dreaded Microbead (STILL not banned in Ireland!) and run the 2-Minute Beach Clean and Street Clean campaigns, encouraging people to pick up litter as they walk and share a picture on social media to encourage others to do the same. If you’re interested in getting involved with a local group, joining in a clean-up or just seeing what they do, click here.

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Citizen’s Assembly 2017

So Ireland is putting together a Citizen’s Assembly to discuss the issue of climate change and what to do about it. Kinda feels like the government is kicking the proverbial can down the metaphorical road considering I think it’s already sort of common knowledge that a) climate change is bad and b) we should do something about it, but anything to delay them making actual decisions, right?

Anyway, even though I am super sleepy and in a very grumpy mood (probably because of the sleepiness) , I stayed up to write a submission for the Assembly, as the deadline is tomorrow. I copied and pasted it below, in case anyone fancies a read. It’s definitely a bit crap, but I tried!! Yay for doing my civic duty. Now to stagger to bed…

And for more info on said assembly, click here (I’m too lazy to do a write up right now!)

Tackling Climate Change in Ireland, 2017

It is imperative that we tackle climate change both at home in Ireland and globally. A huge amount of research has shown that human activity contributes to climate change, and a huge amount of research has been done to come up with ways to slow, stop or even reverse climate change. It is a lack of political willpower and a collective denial by the majority of citizens that stands in the way of the implementation of these solutions.  A “top down” approach, involving difficult and likely unpopular decisions made by politicians will be necessary if we are to face this impending threat. Not only that, but large businesses and corporations will have to accept that changes to how they do business will be necessary to combat climate change, which may result in a decrease in short-term profits. And what’s more, a change in priorities and in the lifestyle of ordinary citizens is essential to achieve the goals aid down in the Paris Agreement, the National Mitigation Plan, and in various other documents. Without real, tangible, dedication and support of our leaders, entrepreneurs and citizens, documents will remain just that: documents. We needs them to be translated into action. And soon. Will we have to wait until there is a drought, a heatwave, a storm, a cold snap, or a famine that results in the deaths of thousands of innocent people until our eyes are opened? I don’t want the children I may have someday to grow up in a world where these disasters are an everyday reality. I don’t want to make the choice not to have children because I am living in that reality. We have the facts. We have the solutions. Let’s use them.

Education

A huge number of people out there maintain that climate change is a natural process, and we do not have the facts to prove that humans are contributing to this. This is ridiculous. These people, citizens of Ireland and other “developed” countries, are ill-informed. The government should emphasize climate change in primary and secondary education, making it clear to the voters of tomorrow that climate change is real, and that the current alterations are being caused by humans. Education should also be aimed at adults, be it via social media, billboards, TV and radio coverage: whatever. The government has a responsibility to inform its citizens of the facts.

Transport

  • The purchase of electric vehicles should be subsidized with tax breaks or other incentives to encourage their use.
  • Electric vehicles should be used in public infrastructure projects where possible.
  • Cycling should be encouraged, with the provision of dedicated, segregated and safe cycle ways.
  • Roll out “bike to school” and “bike to college” scheme to further encourage bicycle use.
  • Cases in safe cycling should be offered in schools and community centres
  • Public transport routes, especially buses, should be reviewed and updated based on commuter traffic.
  • Timetables for buses, trains etc. should be altered to coincide with times of peak use by commuters
  • Build Metro North
  • Discourage use of cars for on-person commutes to work with incentives to car-share: e.g. fast lane on motorway for use by vehicles carrying passengers only.

Food Production

  • Animal agriculture causes huge amounts of greenhouse gas emission and wastes huge amounts of grain etc, which is fed to animals.
  • The government currently funds organisations like Bord Bia, the National Dairy Council, etc, which actively promotes an increase in the consumption of animal-derived foods. This is short-sighted, profit-driven and irresponsible, given the information we have regarding the impact of animal agriculture on climate change.
  • “Food Harvest 2020” and the abolition of milk quotas have encouraged farmers to increase rather that decrease the amount of dairy and meat produced. Schemes that actively encourage increasing animal agricultural output should be avoided.
  • Financial schemes to encourage tillage, fruit and vegetable farming on suitable land should be put in place.
  • Alternative farming methods to combat greenhouse emissions, such as planting trees on grazing land to provide animal shelter, prevent erosion, and redcue CO2, or feeding seaweed to cattle to reduce methane emissions, should be encouraged. Education on evidence-based sustainable farming should be provided, free of charge, to all farmers.
  • Education on healthy, plant-based diets should be provided by the government at school level, and be promoted through the media. There is a wealth of scientific evidence confirming the benefits of plant-based diets. However the concepts of veganism and vegetarianism is often ridiculed, especially by the older generations. This is an unhelpful and unscientific attitude and should be discouraged.
  • Research into sustainable agricultural methods, adapted to the Irish context, should be funded by the government and industry in our universities and government research centres (e.g. Teagasc)

Home heating/lighting and electricity

  • Strict building standards should be set, adhered to, and monitored to ensure homes are insulated to the best possible standard, thus minimising energy loss and reducing need for home heating.
  • Public buildings should be built to even higher standards and be made energy-neutral where possible.
  • Research into home-energy-generating technology should be implemented in universities etc.
  • Mandatory easy-to-use electricity use meters could be installed in homes, to make it easier for citizens to monitor their own electricity use.

Waste

  • An outright ban on disposable plastic bottles, cutlery and cups shod be implemented without delay.
  • Supermarkets and other retailers should be put under pressure to reduce unnecessary plastic packaging.
  • Retailers offering low or zero-waste alternatives should be incentivised to set up and expand businesses.
  • Free, accessible educational classes and materials should be distributed to all customers regarding the use of their green and compost bins. Clarity and consistency between waste disposal providers should be enforced so that they are all working “from the same page”.
  • The possibility of safe incineration of plastic waste should be examined, as is widespread practice in Scandinavia.
  • Education at a primary and secondary school level into the benefits of recycling and composting should be mandatory.

There is more I would like to say, but I don’t have the expertise, energy or time to research and write several more pages about topics such as renewable energy, disaster management, energy generation etc. However, I believe the lynchpin of tackling climate change is from buy-in by government, business, and people. This will only be achieved by a campaign of education, in which appropriate, coherent and clear communication of evidence-based science to all sectors of society is central. This will require our politicians, most of whom grew up in a time where the term “climate change” didn’t exist, and who are pre-occupied with the next election/Galway races, to extract their heads from the sand and face reality. Much of our country’s economy is based on animal agriculture, and changing how we produce food will be a daunting task, requiring farmers and those involved in ancillary industries to change their practices of their own volition. This will only happen if politicians take the lead and make unpopular decisions: perhaps with appropriate communication and education, these decisions don’t have to be unpopular, however. Surely there are ways in which we can change our practices for the better, where farmers feel short-term benefits as opposed to hardship? Surely there are ways where people can change their diets because they want to, knowing the health and lifestyle benefits, not because they’re made to? Surely rational, educated people can assess the facts and make decisions based on facts, rather than self-interest, short-term gains and misinformation?

I hope that this Assembly will help steer our country towards tackling climate change in an effective and meaningful way, and quickly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Does Zero Waste Mean Zero Fun?

I went to a festival this weekend. It’s called The Beatyard, and it’s a really nice, small, low-key, family-friendly festival in a seaside town called Dun Laoghaire, just south of Dublin City. There were musical acts (including Bananarama, Air and Morcheeba),  a funfair, and lots of amazing food trucks selling everything from Korean barbecue to clam chowder. Various activities geared towards kids (and slightly drunk adults) also ran throughout the day, like drawing lessons with TV personality Don Conroy, well-known on the Irish kids TV circuit for his sketches of owls (brings me back to the nineties!).

 

It was a really nice little festival. Chilled, friendly, fun, small, relaxed, definitely nothing like Glastonbury. But now that I’ve become more conscious of environmental matters, the sheer amount of waste produced by a relatively small crowd over two days (with no camping involved) seemed phenomenal. Every bar handed out their drinks in single-use, small plastic cups, and stuck straws in without asking. They were all so rushed off their feet that even if you DID ask for no straw, they probably wouldn’t notice. Many of the food stalls served their food in non-recyclable or non-compostable containers, with plastic cutlery, copious amounts of napkins, and sachets of ketchup/mayonnaise/vinegar. Coffee and tea were served in non-compostable cups, as far as I could see. Of course there was a “no drinks allowed” policy to stop people sneaking in booze and denying the bars the opportunity to grossly overcharge their customers (8 euro for a tiny mojito that was 80% ice, I ask you…), so you couldn’t even bring in your own bottle of water to refill. You might have gotten away with bringing in an empty reusable water bottle to fill up at the water taps (at least they had that option available) but security were being fairly strict. The place was fairly clean, as they had a large team of litter wardens constantly scooping up empty plastic cups off the ground. I felt pretty disgusted that grown adults would just chuck their cups away for someone else to pick up when there were lots of bins everywhere, but that’s alcohol for you. Not to mention laziness and sheer lack of consideration.

 

The festival organisers definitely did make an effort. As I said, there were the aforementioned water fountains, where you could fill up an empty drinks cup or plastic bottle of coke or whatever (purchased on-site for an extortionate price), so at least hydration was free if you provided your own receptacle. There were lots of bins everywhere, for those that cared to use them, though they were ‘general waste’ rather than recycling bins, and no compost option (I suppose that’d be asking WAY too much of your average 25-year-old festival-goer after six pints). There was a team of litter-removers (I hope they got paid well for their troubles!). Some of the food trucks handed out food in compostable cardboard boxes, with wooden cutlery (Shout-out to the delicious Korean Barbecue and their amazing kimchi fried rice!). There were also  range of trucks with more eco-friendly vegetarian and vegan food options; a welcome sight at a festival.

It’s hard to know if an event like that can ever really become Zero-Waste, or even get to the point where the waste is minimised to a manageable level. If everyone that bought a ticket was motivated and committed to the idea of  recycling and mnimising waste, it’d be grand. But not everyone is; in fact most people aren’t, especially when they’re relaxing and having a few  (or more than a few) drinks. But surely there are steps festival-organisers can take to at least try lessen their events environmental impact?

I’m currently pretty wrecked and my bran is feeling mushy, but here are some of my ideas:

  • Everyone who arrives could get given a reusable cup, to be used at the bars, or pay for one with a deposit that they get back on it’s safe return when leaving the festival.
  • All food stands could be provided with mandatory compostable cutlery and containers.
  • There could be a “recycling and compost area” where those who are interested can dispose of their rubbish properly, staffed by eco-volunteers who supervise what people chuck in the various bins. There could be general waste bins outside this area, so poor volunteers don’t have to tackle people to the ground when they try put plastic in the paper bin.
  • Information stands where awareness is raised about the need to keep the festival ground clean, and of the environmental impact of disposable plastic (ok, not very ‘festival’, but goddammit let’s make people take some responsibility for their actions!)
  • Paper straws (or just no straws…? Isn’t that an option? Can’t your average healthy adult drink from a cup without a straw?)
  • Allow people to bring empty refillable bottles into the grounds
  • Give out (compostable!) bags that people can fill with rubbish and receive a token towards some kind of prize (more beer?) on return of a full bag of rubbish
  • Encourage public transport use to travel to the festival: some kind of public transport discount could be given to those with festival tickets?
  • Chop off the hands of those caught littering on the main stage before the headline act and then throw them to the lions… Though maybe keeping a bunch of lions cooped up in cages isn’t very eco-friendly… I’ll think about this one. 

Ok, maybe the last one is a bit extreme, but desperate times call for desperate measures… 😛 Anyone else have any ideas about how to make a festival eco-friendly? Or seen any nifty ideas implemented at festivals, parties, gatherings or whatever? Would be nice to try figure out ways to make gathering together for fun events can be made more sustainable!

 

 

 

Time for Sustainability

OldClockCloseUp
By Illymarry – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=59737231

I was supposed to go to two sustainability-related events tonight. I was even going to review one of them for this blog: A talk entitled “Sustainable Living: How To Live A Happier Life With Less Impact” held in the Patagonia outdoor shop in Dublin. Then I was supposed to hightail it to a Green Party fundraiser and mingle with environmentally-conscious young people, the sustainability leaders of the future. I was quite looking forward to it, actually.

But I didn’t go to either. Sorry guys, no review! It’s 9:45pm on a Friday night, and I’m on the couch in my parents house in a fluffy bathrobe. There’s a mug of tea at my elbow, and I’m half-watching the Word Athletics Championships 2017 which is on in the background. (Mo Farah looks pretty happy about something: I’m guessing he won? Good for him.)

The reason I didn’t make it out of the house is fairly simple: I’m exhausted. Zonked. Wrecked. Shattered. Call it what you will, I want my bed. So I won’t be going to either event, but I will sneak in a quick blog post before I go to Dreamy Sleepyland. About how I can’t help but feel that this modern way of living, with multitude of commitments, obligations, and beeping, blinking devices really get in the way of living a Zero Waste lifestyle.

Most of my Zero Waste failures occur thanks to lack of time management. And I’m not a especially disorganised person, but I am a busy person. I’m doing a full-time doctorate programme, which means I am regularly at my desk by 7am and work 10-hour days. I try to exercise four or five times a week, which seems not unreasonable, right? I socialise occasionally (not a whole lot, as you can tell from my Friday nights spent on my parents’ couch in my PJs), and in between that I have to grocery shop, cook, clean, do laundry, wash myself, and grab a few hours sleep. Doesn’t sound like a whole lot, and I don;t feel like I’m especially productive to be honest. But between everything else, it can be really hard to remember to bring my reusable water bottle, bamboo cutlery, reusable shopping bag, coffee cup, menstrual pads, and god knows what else to all events where they may be required.

I crashed at my parents’ house last night, because I had to leave my car at work overnight after having a drink in town with a friend, and it’s more convenient to get to work from my folks on public transport than from my own place. Due to this unexpected hiccup in my routine, I couldn’t make a packed lunch to take to work. I am ashamed and appalled to confess that I ended up buying, for the first time in a LONG time, a salad in a plastic, disposable bowl, with a plastic film lid, a plastic cup of dressing, and a plastic fork included (I’m genuinely a little sickened by myself right now). I didn’t have to choose this overpackaged salad, but the packaging-free food options that I actually wanted to eat in the particular shop in question were fairly minimal, and I didn’t really want to have a slightly stale, cold, greasy croissant and bruised apple for lunch.

Another Zero Waste Fail occurred on a mad rush to the airport in Berlin last weekend. I rushed across the city in 35 degree heat, dragging behind me my 16kg suitcase, laden down by my rusksack, and still managed to be pressed for time when I arrived at the airport. I joined the queue for security and was mortified to realise that my lovely aluminium reusable water bottle was in my hand luggage… full of water. And the not-so -helpful security team made me chuck the whole thing into the rubbish bin, in case I tried to hold up the plane with a litre of water and a light aluminium cylinder. Meaning I had to buy an emergency regular plastic bottle of water for my last gym visit, something I haven’t done for a while. I don’t think I look like the type of person who’d try hijack a plane singlehandedly using only a bottle of water as a weapon, but I guess rules are rules.

Our lives of constant rushing, constant pressure, and constant distraction are in no way conducive to preparing and planning ahead, to remembering the little details that you need to remember to minimise your waste output. I think that’s what puts a lot of people off the whole idea. It’s so much easier to buy a pre-made, packaged sandwich then to get up a little bit earlier to make your own. It’s far easier to go for a coffee and just get handed a disposable cup that to weight down your bag with a reusable one that you somehow have to clean out after you use. Even someone like me, who is fairly dedicated (or tries to be) finds it hard to keep it up the whole time.

I think Zero Waste living would be easier if I turned off my smartphone, or at least if I deleted the Facebook app. It’d be easier if work emails didn’t pop up on my screen when I’m not actually in work. It’d be easier if there weren’t a million silly little things teeming around in my mental to-do list that I keep meaning to get to but never quite do. It’d also be easier if all “convenience” options didn’t involve copious amounts of unrecyclable, disposable stryofoam, plastic film, and the every mysterious “mixed materials”.

I guess someone living a Zero Waste lifestyle should aspire not just to avoiding wasting stuff, but also to avoid wasting that precious, intangible commodity known as time. We need to dispose of all the unnecessary little distractions, the moments spent facebook-checking, and internet-browsing, the commitments we know we probably won’t be able to follow through on, the time sent searching for stuff we haphazardly threw in a corner and forgot abut while rushing off to do something else. Imagine how much extra time a day you’d have if all those little moments were added up: Personally, I think I’d gain about an hour. An hour to dedicate to self care, to reading a chapter of that book I haven’t gotten around to, or calling my grandparents. An hour to make lunch, to put together my zero waste kit for the day, to prepare food for the week. Best of all, an extra hour in Sleepy Dreamyland… And speaking of which, readers, I think that’s where I’ll be heading right now.

Hope your Friday night is more exciting than mine… Remember t bring your reusable bamboo/metal straw to any alcoholic-beverage vending venues you may be frequenting, ya big rebels.